Can Virtual Reality assist the recoupling of theory and practice in Civil Engineering education?

  • Patricia Xavier
  • Marc Holmes
  • Russell Evans
  • Jude Clancy
Swansea University, Swansea

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Dawnus Construction

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Swansea University, Swansea

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 Corresponding Author
Swansea University, Swansea
[email protected]
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Civil Engineering education is intended to prepare students for a career working in often large, dynamic and complex environments. Despite this, most education typically takes place in a classroom, with students engaging in learning conceptualised design processes while removed from engaging with authentic and contextualised tasks. Problem-based learning (PBL), where students are encouraged to take an inquiry-led rather than instructed approach to learning is often recommended as a solution to re-connecting theory and practice. Deriving the problem to be solved in PBL from real case studies from industry can add to authenticity. However, the scale and complexity of, for example, a working site, is difficult to replicate.

Virtual Reality (VR) can offer a realistic immersive experience and appears to have potential to effectively augment PBL in Civil Engineering education. This paper explores how familiar current students are with VR technology and how useful they perceive it to be for education. The paper also seeks to understand whether a relatively cheap and accessible VR solution (navigable site tour captured using 360° photospheres, viewed using a Google Cardboard-type device and smartphone) can improve a PBL learning experience. Students were asked to complete a design exercise involving a large excavation. They were then invited to view a VR experience of an excavation of the same size in order for them to compare their conceptualised design with the experience of the actual investigation. Thematic analysis of student responses after the VR experience showed student responses were positive, with themes of fun, realism, improved sense of presence and scale emerging as perceived benefits. It is concluded that VR has good potential to improve PBL tasks in Civil Engineering education, however, it is identified that more research is required to understand whether VR in PBL can help to develop the spatial intelligence of classroom-taught students.

Keywords: Problem-Based Learning; Civil Engineering Education; Virtual Reality; Construction Management; Spatial Intelligence


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